‘Brutal’ Leeds council savings trigger Osborne challenge

Coun Keith Wakefield
Coun Keith Wakefield
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George Osborne has been urged to get serious about turning the North into an economic powerhouse as the region prepares for a fresh round of cuts to local government services.

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield laid down the challenge as he revealed the authority is planning to remove £76.1 million from the authority’s budget next year including the possible loss of almost 500 staff.

Other councils across the region have already warned of the challenge they face to balance the books next year as they grapple with major cuts in funding from the Government including Sheffield, which needs to find £60 million, and Kirklees, which has to cut its budget by £30 million.

Coun Wakefield said the level of the cuts underlined the need to transform the region’s economy but described the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last week, billed as Mr Osborne’s plan to create a “northern powerhouse”, as “disappointing”.

He said: “Given that we are supposed to be a part of the economic powerhouse of the North, in terms of real announcements trying to distinguish between rhetoric and substance or words and action, what we know is that we can use the hard shoulder on the M62.

“If the Chancellor is serious about the Yorkshire region being a key part of the powerhouse of the North, given that we have the strongest economy I think there is a lot more we should be looking at.”

He added: “I warned in October the budget for next year was going to be the toughest yet and the proposals being put forward are as brutal as I feared.”

Council leaders in the region have argued that the only way the region can cope with major cuts in Government funding is through significant investment to grow the local economy.

Deals to devolve major powers and Government funding to West and South Yorkshire in areas such as transport, skills and planning, were due to be part of the Chancellor’s autumn statement.

But almost a week on, and despite Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s personal backing for the idea, deals have still not been agreed.

Leeds’s budget proposals include cuts in road repairs, higher rents and reduced opening hours for council facilities.

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins, the MP for Keighley, said: “Every bit of the public sector needs to do their bit to pay off the deficit left by the last administration including local government which accounts for a quarter of all public spending.

“Since 2010 this Government has delivered a fair settlement to every part of the country while giving them greater financial independence so they can deliver sensible savings while protecting front-line services.

“Leaving aside schools due to the move to academies, Leeds’s spending has actually increased under this Government.

“The majority of local authorities have continued to balance their budgets whilst reducing council tax in real-terms and increased or maintained public satisfaction with services. “